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Series Preview: Mariners (3-4) vs. Athletics (3-3)

The Mariners open their 2020 home slate with a four-game series against the A’s.

Los Angeles Angels v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Well, we’re through a week of games. Globally, you kind of have to figure the Mariners are at roughly their, what? 85th? 90th? Percentile outcome. No positive tests on the team, encouraging performances from many key cogs of the rebuild, and the record doesn’t even look that bad! With three wins in tow, the Mariners return to T-Mobile Park for the first time in, holy cow, ten months tonight to face off against the Athletics. After Marco Gonzales finally stabilized the rotation last night with easily the best pitching performance of the year (oh, hey, he wasn’t pitching against Houston), Taijuan Walker gets the ball to start things off for the Mariners in Seattle in 2020.

More broadly, the situation continues to devolve for the eastern half of MLB. With the Cardinals and Brewers off for at least a day after two positive tests, the league seems to have a real problem on their hands in terms of getting anything resembling 60 games over the finish line. The next few days will, as usual, tell us a lot more about the situation (and if anyone else is testing positive). So far, the west has not been forced to pause any games, though that could change quite literally any day.

At a Glance

Athletics Mariners
Athletics Mariners
Game 1 Friday, July 31 | 6:40 pm
LHP Sean Manaea RHP Taijuan Walker
60% 40%
Game 2 Saturday, August 1 | 6:10 pm
RHP Mike Fiers LHP Yusei Kikuchi
62% 38%
Game 3 Sunday, August 2 | 1:10 pm
RHP Chris Bassitt RHP Kendall Graveman
61% 39%
Game 4 Monday, August 3 | 6:10 pm
RHP Daniel Mengden LHP Justus Sheffield
59% 41%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 107 (4th in AL) 99 (9th in AL) Athletics
Fielding (DRS) 52 (3rd) -88 (14th) Athletics
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 102 (9th) 114 (12th) Athletics
Bullpen (FIP-) 89 (3rd) 108 (13th) Athletics
2019 stats

Oakland powered their way to a 97 win season that really should have earned them more than a wild card berth, but [gestures in Astros]. They were a remarkably balanced squad in 2019, doing the little things well (defense, relievers) and the big things (starters, hitting). They raced out of the gate on Anaheim to open the year, taking three of four, but followed that up with a two game sweep at the hands of Colorado in which the A’s managed just four runs over two games.

Athletics Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Marcus Semien SS R 747 0.294 137 1.7
Ramón Laureano CF R 481 0.342 126 4.9
Matt Chapman 3B R 670 0.270 125 0.9
Matt Olson 1B L 547 0.300 134 -0.5
Mark Canha LF R 497 0.308 146 -1.2
Khris Davis DH R 533 0.264 81 -2.2
Stephen Piscotty RF R 393 0.289 93 0.7
Chad Pinder 2B L 370 0.284 87 -1.5
Sean Murphy C R 60 0.273 135 0.6
2019 stats

While Oakland has to dump players as they approach the more expensive years (hello, Matt Chapman, your number is nearly up) of their initial contracts, they retain a frustratingly absurd ability to churn out replacements. Marcus Semien finally put it all together last year, benefitting from Chapman’s defense to his right and posting a wRC+ 39 points higher than he’d ever touched before. That led to a 7.6 WAR season that was more or less out of nowhere and provided a massive boost to the top of Oakland’s lineup. Six out of Oakland’s nine hitters are similarly threatening (Sean Patrick Murphy is a very good prospect and impressed in his cup of coffee last year), and while Khris Davis, Stephen Piscotty, and Chad Pinder don’t have the recent results on their side, they’ve all shown enough promise in the not-distant past to create the possibility of an absolutely brutal lineup top to bottom for opposing pitchers.

Probable Pitchers

Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Texas Rangers Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

LHP Sean Manaea

29 2/3 27.5% 6.4% 10.7% 41.2% 1.21 3.42
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 63.4% 89.8 1954 39 120 130
Changeup 14.9% 81.0 1458 133 115 120
Slider 21.7% 79.3 2841 58 60 134
2019 stats

After a promising start to his career, Sean Manaea missed about a year’s worth of time after a shoulder injury sidelined him late in 2018. He made his return to the mound in September of last year showing some of the same skills that made him such an intriguing prospect. He posted the highest strikeout rate of his career across five starts in September, backed by a significant increase in whiff rate on all of his pitches. But there were still some red flags that have continued to go unanswered in his first start this season. His fastball velocity has dropped every year since his debut season in 2016, from 92.9 mph then to just 89.0 mph now. Although it’s classified as a four-seamer by Statcast, it’s characteristics are more like a sinker. A low-spin, low-velocity sinker isn’t the worst thing for a pitcher’s repertoire, but it definitely bucks modern pitching trends. One interesting wrinkle this year: it looks like he’s throwing two types of breaking balls now. His slider had been more of a slow slurvy-style slider in years past. This year, he’s throwing a harder slider around 82.5 mph and a curveball around 76.3 mph.

RHP Mike Fiers

184 2/3 16.7% 7.0% 13.8% 39.9% 3.90 4.97
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 32.7% 90.4 2322 67 83 107
Sinker 19.6% 90.2 2256 63 77 108
Changeup 12.6% 84.1 1933 92 52 108
Curveball 17.4% 74.0 2781 77 97 110
Slider 17.7% 85.8 2242 123 142 111
2019 stats

Between blowing the whistle on the Astros sign-stealing scheme and cutting the most interesting beard in baseball, Mike Fiers has been a perfectly serviceable starter for the A’s over the last season and a half. His strikeout-to-walk ratio isn’t anything special and he’s prone to allowing a few too many home runs, but he’s also been able to manage the contact against him when batters aren’t depositing the ball into the seats. His .261 BABIP allowed over the last two seasons ranks sixth among all qualified starters and it’s a big reason why he’s been able to outperform his FIP by more than a run during that span. Tons of fly balls and plenty of pop ups really plays well in his home park.

RHP Chris Bassitt

144 23.0% 7.7% 13.8% 41.3% 3.81 4.40
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 23.6% 93.9 2220 118 109 105
Sinker 41.5% 93.2 2146 93 101 115
Cutter 13.6% 88.3 2253 116 96 93
Changeup 8.4% 85.0 2057 130 81 146
Curveball 12.8% 70.3 2238 46 112 162
2019 stats

Chris Bassitt was finally (mostly) healthy for an entire season and put together his most productive season of his career. He posted his best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career on his way to accumulating 2.1 fWAR across 25 starts and three relief appearances. The biggest effect his health had on his repertoire was a 1.5 mph increase to his fastball velocity. That improved the effectiveness of both his four-seamer and his sinker and helped differentiate those two pitches from his secondary offerings. As the season wore on, he started using his sinker more often in an attempt to counter the effects of the dragless ball. His groundball rate and home run rate didn’t change much with the new pitch mix but he lowered his ERA and FIP without sacrificing his ability to generate whiffs.

RHP Daniel Mengden

59 2/3 16.2% 10.4% 9.1% 36.3% 4.83 4.69
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 32.3% 91.5 2217 74 40 107
Sinker 20.3% 90.4 2086 52 86 113
Cutter 14.5% 86.0 2178 59 64 96
Changeup 11.1% 82.9 1945 129 50 123
Curveball 9.7% 72.5 2106 63 136 50
Slider 12.1% 83.4 2367 127 146 164
2019 stats

Daniel Mengden is the quintessential pitcher who throws the kitchen sink because none of his pitches really stands out. His slider is his most interesting pitch by stuff and whiff rate but he doesn’t throw it enough to really change his mediocre outcomes. Mengden might be listed as the probable starter for Monday’s game but there’s a chance Jesús Luzardo makes the start instead (and if he doesn’t, he’d likely enter the game as a bulk reliever anyway). Luzardo is far more interesting than Mengden. He’s the A’s top prospect and the #6 prospect in baseball according to FanGraphs. He made his debut in September as a reliever and has made a couple of bulk appearances this year after getting off to a slow start to summer camp due to a positive COVID-19 test in July. He’s probably built up enough arm strength to get slotted into the rotation for the rest of the season. Luzardo brings high-90s heat from the left side and pairs it with a devastating slider and a good changeup.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 3-3 0.500 -- W-L-W-L-L
Athletics 3-3 0.500 -- L-W-W-L-L
Mariners 3-4 0.429 0.5 W-L-L-W-W
Rangers 2-3 0.400 0.5 W-L-L-L-W
Angels 2-5 0.286 1.5 L-L-W-L-L

Well, folks, it’s July 31st, Jarred Kelenic is raking in Tacoma, and the Mariners sit just half a game out of first in the AL West. Just as we all knew would happen. In fact, and I am pleased to report this, the Mariners are tied for the last playoff spot as of this morning. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.